Increasingly the internet is proving to be a dangerous place to visit. It is a haven for paedophiles, bullies, trolls and hackers. Not a week goes by without reading about a middle-aged man grooming young teens of either sex. Police have set up elaborate stings and managed to trap many of them, but even so it is only a fraction of the evil out there. Parents can put various safeguards in place to monitor the internet activity of their children or even try to prevent access to some sites. The problem is most teenagers today know far more about computers than their mums and dads. They can navigate through most road blocks placed in their way.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. Intrepid hackers can break into NASA so there will not be much effort in breaking into the records of the average citizens’ bank records, health records, personal details — a person’s whole existence is in a computer and is increasingly vulnerable. Credit card details are a favourite for hackers and our banks can’t keep up with the security upgrades required to stay ahead of the game.
Quite apart from the criminality referred to above, the internet provides another outlet for one of the worst traits of humankind — the capacity to be vicious and cruel. The relative anonymity provided by the internet is enough to turn cowards into self-proclaimed tough guys. To be a bully you no longer need to be the big kid picking on someone smaller. You can be as vicious as you like by tapping out a few lines. Breakdowns and even suicides can be the tragic result. The phenomenon of kids in their mid-teens taking their own lives is becoming far too common. Our society will demand more qualified school counsellors to help handle the unfortunate victims.
Trolls have become part of everyday internet life. The most practised loser can whack the rich, the famous or anyone who has committed some transgression, real or imagined. I have always ignored them when they tell me I have betrayed Labor by taking a Murdoch shilling or that I should be in jail or criticise my family life. Contrary to popular myth I have always been reluctant to go to war.
My wife, Amanda, though has always been a warrior. She has urged me time and time again to take on the trolls and I have ignored her. On Saturday night after dinner, I gave into temptation and replied to a few of them. In a perverse way some of them will have elevated themselves to an undeserved status because I did so. A few of them got a real serve but the satisfaction of so doing did not last long. Later I was lying awake in bed wondering if I had gone too far and hurt their feelings. The words of my father were ringing in my ears and were giving some comfort. He used to say “never give anyone a free kick. If you let them do it once, they will do it again and again”.
Truth be told the younger version of myself might have revelled in the get square but the older version could not find either comfort or reason in it. Most of us, thankfully, have real lives to live and better things to do than spend time being nasty.
My New Year’s resolution is to go back to my old policy of ignoring the trolls. Mind you that worries me too — I have never been very good at keeping those resolutions!